Culture Warlords isn’t one of those books in which an intrepid author journeys behind enemy lines in order to write plaintively of our shared humanity ... one of the marvels of this furious book is how insolent and funny Lavin is; she refuses to soft-pedal the monstrous views she encounters, and she clearly takes pleasure in cutting them down to size ... Culture Warlords expressly melds reportage with activism.
... in keeping with being published for mainstream audiences, largely serves as a tour guide to the world of the far right on the assumption that it is not well known to most readers ... At least as far as what’s presented in Culture Warlords, Lavin doesn’t get especially far in her efforts to dox fascists. In fact, she goes so far as to protect the identity of one she discusses extensively ... Lavin does not lack sympathy for the loneliness of incels, for instance. But she does more than most anti-extremists to connect the present fascist right to its predecessors as part of long histories of racism, antisemitism, misogyny, and fascist organizing in this country ... Though Lavin’s book may lack policy recommendations, her work contains the truth that the fight against emerging fascism is a mass political struggle, not a technical problem for experts to solve. Not everyone can punch Nazis, or dox them. Indeed, recent events have made clear that many of the upholders of white supremacy will not come to us in the reassuringly exotic form of the neo-Nazi. They will arise from the ranks of quotidian supporters of the structures of white supremacy, such as that of the police. It’s going to take much more than guidance programs for the youth and enhanced surveillance to counter the rising tide of the far right.
It’s not pretty, but Lavin is an entertaining Virgil for this neo-Nazi hell ... posing as the blonde, she figures out the true identity of a significant white supremacist and shares it with authorities. It’s a kind of gonzo journalism by proxy, and her most successful effort as a modern-day Nazi hunter ... She forges engaging narrative paths through the distant and near history of the alt-right, from the medieval European blood libel to Henry Ford’s mainstreaming of anti-Semitic ideas to Gamergate and the stories of a radicalized adolescent YouTuber. This combination of memoir and analysis works well. If there is a weak spot, it’s that her reporting only goes so far ... The biggest challenge that Lavin doesn’t quite meet, despite making a few gestures toward it, is connecting anti-Semitism with racism against Black and brown people ... a clear warning.
... wide-ranging, angry, and sadly relevant ... Lavin is of course not the first to write about the problem, but her book feels particularly insightful, perhaps because she understands so deeply both the modern idiom in which these bigots operate today and their historic roots in race science, eugenics, and anti-Semitism.
Culture Warlords is not truly a history or an ethnography or a memoir or even really a travelogue from racist site to racist site. It belongs, rather, to an older model of writing. It is a jeremiad, in the very best sense. There may be deeper, more comprehensive studies of the far right, but the value of Culture Warlords is its anger ... Much of the anthropological information Lavin conveys about these white supremacist online communities is, sadly, no longer surprising ... But Lavin also reveals less well-known information, which shines a light on the profound unreality of modern racist communities ... As Lavin shows, a vital tool in the anti-fascist arsenal is unmasking white supremacists in public, denying them respectability and anonymity.
[An] alarming investigation into online extremism ... Lavin shares plenty of disturbing rhetoric and reveals eye-opening statistics on just how popular some of these communities are, but her analysis of the factors behind their appeal, and what can be done to stop online intolerance, doesn’t break much new ground. Still, this is a bracing and wide-ranging look at the internet as a breeding ground for racism and misogyny.